Sonny Clark: Sonny's Crib at 45

Photo: Mosaic Images

Sonny's Crib, by Sonny Clark, one of the most tragic and still-underrated pianists in jazz, is one of the greatest blowing sessions on a label—Blue Note—that specialized in blowing sessions, especially in the mid-to-late '50s, when this was laid down.

September 1, 1957 was the recording date, and that's not a gratuitous factoid. First, 1957 marked a pinnacle in Clark's brief career; he recorded 18 albums that year, most of them Blue Notes, as either leader or sideman. (He would die from a heroin overdose in 1963, at the age of 31, and the only surprise was that it didn't happen much earlier.)

Second, September 1, '57 was two weeks before John Coltrane's Blue Train session, and since Sonny's Crib features Coltrane on one of the three horns, we can hear his style progress toward its post-bop peak (before he turned in another direction with his early '60s "classic quartet" and then still another direction with his Ornette-influenced sheets of sound), but with someone else's material and thus, in a sense, in a purer form.

But enough historiography: This album cooks! Not just Trane but Donald Byrd, who never blew the trumpet with more verve and edge (he sounds like Lee Morgan), and Curtis Fuller, about whom the same can be said of his twists and turns on trombone. As for Paul Chambers on bass and Art Taylor on drums, they may have played as well on other sessions, but engineer Rudy Van Gelder rarely captured the thump and wood of a bass better than on this album, and the drumkit is as sizzly as on all but the sizzliest of his albums.

Finally, there's Clark. The sound of his piano, like the sound of the piano on many RVG recordings, is a bit hooded (except during solos, when it seems somebody's pulled off the cover), but the point here is that Clark played—and composed—with an insouciant swing and a Latin lilt that adds a complexity to the band's rhythm, and a shading to its harmony, lacking in other BN blowing sessions (say, Hank Mobley's).

This is another LP reissue by the jazz-loving audiophiles at Music Matters Jazz: mastered at 45rpm, with the widened grooves spread out across two slabs of 180g virgin vinyl. It makes the instruments on the CD sound like paper puppets on a flat backdrop by comparison.

One more caveat: This, to my mind, is the second-best Sonny Clark album, the best being Cool Struttin', recorded four months later with Jackie McLean blowing some of his best riffs on alto sax. (It also has one of the best jazz album covers, featuring Anita O'Day's legs.) MMJ has a 45rpm double-LP of this one, too. Get them both.

CORRECTION, Sept 3: Some have written in, wondering where I read that the legs on the cover of Sonny Clark's Cool Struttin' belong to Anita O'Day. It was Ron Rambach, co-president of Music Matters Jazz, who told me that in an email about a year ago. I just wrote him again, to make sure it was true. He replied that he was wrong; the legs were Ruth Lion's, wife of Alfred Lion, who owned Blue Note Records. My bad for not checking.—FK

volvic's picture

I have the original CD pressing of Cool Stuttin (listening to it now as I type) it sounds really good on CD through my system does the same apply here?  Will the 45 rpm vinyl sound that much better to warrant the expense? 


Fred Kaplan's picture

Volvic - I can't comment on whether the 45rpm sound would "warrant the expense." That's a subjective consideration. But the sound is MUCH better...Fred

volvic's picture

done will go and get it.  cheers Nick aka volvic

Mark Stryker's picture

Hi Fred,

Are those really Anita O'Day's legs on the cover of "Cool Struttin'"? Wow. I've never heard or read that before -- just curious what your source is on that.

All best,

Mark Stryker

Detroit Free Press

Twitter: @Mark_Stryker

On another front, you might enjoy some of our Detroit Jazz Festival coverage. Here's a profile of bassist Bob Hurst and the complete line-up we're enjoying this weekend:|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

gkrr1's picture

I, too, didn't know know whose legs those were on Cool Struttin'. Fred, please clarify!

Fred Kaplan's picture

See my PS in the entry: My source on the Anita O'Day story now says he was mistaken, that the legs belonged to Ruth Lion, wife of Alfred Lion, president of Blue Note. I should add here that Michael Cuscuna, who knows more Blue Note arcana than anyone alive, says he has doubts that the legs were Mrs Lion's either, suspects they just hired a model. This seems to be a case of that line from "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" - "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."...Fred Kaplan